As you may have seen, there's been a new outbreak of the intra-Yes culture wars today, triggered by a post on Wings about another question from the Panelbase poll, showing that by a margin of 58% to 18% the Scottish public are opposed to the proposal that individuals should have the right to change their own legally-recognised gender without reference to anyone else. I'm not going to get involved in any discussion on the substance of this issue - life's too short (elements of the radical left have spent a fair bit of the last twelve months complaining about me writing a light-hearted Christmas poem, for pity's sake), and as it happens my views on this particular subject aren't especially well-developed anyway. However, what I do want to offer a view on is the dispute over whether the question the Wings poll asked was "leading" or not. Here it is in full -
A new government review of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 has proposed that people should in future be allowed to legally decide which sex they are simply by self-definition, without the current medical or psychological assessments which can take two years or more. This would mean abolishing all current single-sex public spaces, such as women-only changing rooms and men-only toilets, and it would become a hate crime to disagree with someone about which sex they were. Broadly speaking, what is your view of this proposal?
My simple verdict is: yes, of course that's a leading question, but that doesn't make it an illegitimate question. This is an unfamiliar topic for most people, which means you're not going to get a considered response from them unless the question goes into a reasonable amount of detail about what the proposal actually is. And as soon as there's detail, there's a bias, because the person framing the question is effectively making an editorial judgement about what to put in and what to leave out. There's no such thing as absolute neutrality in such a long question. This particular question was clearly framed by someone who thinks that the perceived negative consequences of the proposal are more worthy of mention than any positive effects. Personally, I'd say the final bit about 'hate crimes' seems a bit gratuitous - it reads as a 'chucking in the kitchen sink' addition. Nevertheless, it's valuable to learn how people react when confronted with the perceived negatives, and it would be equally interesting to see how people react when confronted with the positives - presumably other polls can enlighten us on the latter point. I think, however, that it would be naive to assume that the result would be dramatically different even if the most favourable and reassuring slant was put on the question. We know from the debate over equal marriage that social attitudes can sometimes change very, very rapidly, and that may well prove to be the case once again. But as of right now, at this very moment in January 2018, legally-binding self-definition of gender doesn't seem to be something that the majority of the public are ready to fully embrace.